Paul is at that point that many of us will be at someday: we know our time here on earth is over.
Of course, there may be some among us who won’t be given any such warning and it will all end as suddenly as a car crash, a heart-attack or stroke, or any other instantaneous and unforeseen manner of death.
But for Paul, he knew. There was no getting out of prison this time. There was not going to be another missionary journey. No more visits to churches he started to see how they’re doing, no witnessing to every creature under heaven of the Gospel (Col. 1:23), no more carrying the name of Jesus to the nations (Acts 9:15)
But knowing this is making Paul think of two things. First, he wants the work of the Gospel he started and has been painfully devoted to to continue and flourish without him. What he started he wants to go on. But secondly, and not unrelated to this, Paul is repeatedly encouraging Timothy to be faithful. Why? Not because Timothy is shaky, but, because of everyone else. Throughout this letter we see Paul’s thoughts keep coming back to his deep sense of abandonment by people who shared in the work of the Gospel with him at an earlier time. If you miss this point you miss the tone and mood of the whole letter: At the end of his life Paul may have felt that all the momentum he began for spreading the Gospel was in jeopardy of coming to a halt with his death. And it may be that Timothy was the one person he could trust would carry the torch that Paul left behind.
How can we relate to Paul here? Perhaps if you’ve started a business and the time has come for you to sell or hand it off to your kids you can grasp Paul’s concern here. Perhaps you parents whose kids are old enough to be out on their own you can understand the “work” and the “project” of years in the making under your own roof with their lives. Then that moment when their room is empty, you’re driving away from their college dorm, or, they’re getting onto a plain to go to basic training, or, they just move out, your work in a sense is ending and the transition is just as monumental for you as it is for your kids. You can understand where Paul is coming from, on some level.
End like Paul. Resolve to start this year with the end in mind. The end of your life. The moment when your window of opportunity to live for Christ closes. That moment when there’s no more chance to do for Christ, only to reflect on what you have done for Him. End like Paul: Confident looking back with no regrets. Confident facing forward to what awaits beyond death. When you’re time is here, and it will be someday, this message today is meant to help you face your end like Paul. My hope is this message today convicts us to live today in such a way that when we look back on our deathbed we have no regrets.
#1: Confident Looking Back (v6-7)
First, be confident looking back. Do you see how confident Paul is looking back on his life? Notice the way he talks in verses 6 and 7, “….”
Socrates, the great Greek philosopher of antiquity said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Paul, breathing Death’s breath, examined his life. Of course, Paul spent his whole life exhorting believers to examine themselves. “A man ought to examine himself before taking the bread” he told the Corinthians. He told them again, “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith!”
Examining yourself is not exclusively a philosophers exercise or a believers – it is part of what it means to be human! Examine yourself! Think about it, animals can’t examine themselves. But we, as man made in God’s image, can contemplate our existence and the quality of it. We are not machines and we are not animals. We are man. Made in God’s image. We are the brilliant combination of flesh and spirit, having consciousness, a conscience, a soul, an intellect, a desire for purpose, an awareness of things beyond ourselves, this realm and this life.
So, what did Paul see looking back over his life that made him confident? Why is it that when Paul looked back over his life he didn’t wish he could do it over again to get it right? How could Paul be satisfied with the life he lived as he looked back over that life? I want to point out 3 reasons Paul was confident in the life he lived.
First, He fought the good fight. Fighting the good fight is a phrase Paul uses with Timothy. “Timothy, my son, I give you these instructions…so that by following them you may fight the good fight.” (1 Tim. 1:18). Then 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”
It has been aptly said, “the Christian life is often treated like a playground when in reality it is a battleground.” Paul did not make that mistake. And he wore himself out to make the rest of the Church understand this world is not a playground. “For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” Jesus described the violent way the program of God was progressing in Matthew 11:12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” The word “forcefully” means “violent, pounding, smashing”. You get the idea of a dam breaking loose and destroying everything in its path. God’s program is destroying Satan’s work and program wherever it goes.
The point is this: the Christian existence is one of warfare. We fight the good fight. It is a war not with men; not fighting with guns and bombs or swords and knives. It is a war with the unseen realm of darkness, the kingdom of Satan and his host of devils. “For our battle is not with flesh and blood” Paul emphasized in Ephesians 6:12, “But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It is not a war to advance a political ideology or increase control of earth’s resources; it is a war to advance the truth and the name of Jesus Christ. And if you think it is a marginal battle, one of many but not the most vicious, most energetic, most taxing and demanding and engaged war happening in this world, you would be mistaken. It is the war of the ages. It is the war between God and Satan. If we think the battle for the next president is the biggest thing happening we would be mistaken. The battle for the minds of men and what they believe about Jesus Christ is the single most dominating war happening on this planet.
Application: Do you believe you are in a war? That you have real enemies who seek your ruin, who seek to make you a tool for their schemes, who want you to become a double agent who advances the darkness and falsehoods and sin while claiming allegiance to Jesus Christ? Do you see your life in this way? You must, because like it or not, you are in a fight.
Application: Have you determined that your life will be one that advances the cause of Jesus Christ? It doesn’t mean becoming a missionary to Africa. It means denying your self in your day to day life and letting your Master, your Savior, Your Jesus Christ live through you – broadcasting His truth, holiness and righteousness to the world around you and through you? If you want to come to the end your life with the same confidence Paul had then you have to decide now while you live to live with the same devotion Paul had.
Before you say, “But Paul was Paul – the Apostle Paul – the greatest of all believers. I can’t be like him” understand that Paul would would look you in the eye and tell you yes you can, and, yes you must. “Imitate me” he said (1 Cor. 11:1). “Follow the pattern I laid down for you.” (Php. 3:17) “Follow my example” he said to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:7). He lived the life we should live and the whole time he compelled the believers to actually do it. Paul’s life was not meant to be admired from below by other “normal” Christians who couldn’t attain his “level”. Paul’s life was lived precisely because we can live in the same way, and that looking at Paul we see a path, a model, an example to imitate.
Second, he finished the race. Jesus warned people about starting out with Him and quitting: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:27-30)
Paul finished what he began. He didn’t put his hand to the plow and look back (Luke 9:62). He didn’t run out of steam or fizzle out. He didn’t quit. It didn’t matter whether he was in prison, poor, abandoned, opposed, and hunted. He wasn’t going to abandon his calling in Christ. Sometimes pastors today see hardship as a sign invalidating their calling. Paul saw it as part of what he was called to (Acts 9:15; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:8-10). He started his second letter to Timothy by saying in chapter 1 verse 12, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering.” (v15) Nothing was going to stop Paul from faithfully finishing his life’s work for Christ.
One time a group of believers were trying very hard to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem for fear he would be killed. Finally Paul responds to them in such a way they cannot argue any further with him. Acts 20:13 records those words for us, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Someone somewhere has made the epic point that you’re truly only ready to live for something when you’re ready to die for it.
Paul was going to finish the race and no enemy was going to deter him. No amount of loneliness was going to either. You see, this point really stands out when you realize all the people on Paul’s mind at that very moment who were quitting. Demas quit Paul’s team because he loved the world (v10). In chapter 1 verse 15 Paul’s pain is seen when he says, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” How that must have cut Paul that these three men so close to Paul would abandon the work. In chapter 2 Paul names Hymaneaus and Philetus as having abandoned not just the work, but, truth, and began to teach false doctrines about the resurrection.
It seems that as Paul writes more of this letter he feels more acutely the fact that abandonment of the faith is only going to get worse. The first 9 verses of chapter 3 explain how bad it is going to get as people turn on the faith. And then, perhaps most famous of Paul’s warnings, right before our text today, in chapter 4 verses 3 and 4 Paul tells Timothy of the mass abandonment that will happen, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
Here’s the thing: Paul’s commitment was not dependent on the commitment of other Christians. Paul embodied Peter’s vow, “Lord, even if all others fall away on account of you I never will. I will follow you even unto death.” (Matth. 26:33-35) Jonathan Edwards made a list of vows he spent all his energy trying to fulfill in his Christian life. Wanna know the first two on his list? Number one: “Live for God.” Number 2: “If no one else does, I still will.” Our commitment to Jesus comes not from seeing the commitment of others. It comes from seeing our glorious Jesus and how worthy He is of our devotion no matter if everyone else walks away.
Application: How do you want to finish your race? How do you want to end your life? In shambles? In shame? Wishing you had done it all differently? Or, do you want to end it with the satisfaction a person has when they’ve done something well? Do you want to end confidently? Paul is forcing each one of us to truly ask ourselves the question: What is most valuable to me? Is the praise of men? Is my personal prosperity? Is achievement? Is fame? Success? Is it Jesus Christ? Make it Christ and you will never regret never having gained anything else. I wise man once put it much better than I ever could when he said “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”